Why Compliments are Powerful

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. ~ Mother Teresa

Psychologist John Gottman most likely agrees. His widely respected research found that in good marriages, compliments outnumber criticisms by more than five to one.

My book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love:30 Minutes A Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, tells exactly how to hold a successful marriage meeting. They are short, gently structured conversations with your spouse which fosters romance, intimacy, teamwork, and smoother resolution of issues.

Appreciation is the first agenda topic. Each partner takes an uninterrupted turn telling the other what he or she valued about the other during the past week. Doing this sets a positive tone for collaborative discussion of the remaining agenda topics: chores (tasks, business, etc.); planning good times; and problems and challenges.

Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Besides enjoying the process of giving and receiving appreciation, you’re likely to find that complimenting your spouse results in her or him doing what you like more often.

Some people say they hold their own version of a weekly meeting with their spouse but without including the topic of appreciation. What’s wrong with that? By omitting this key relationship enhancer, they risk taking each other for granted.

Whether you are complimenting your mate during a marriage meeting or anytime, here are some ways to do it well:

  • “I appreciate you for cleaning the kitchen counter tonight.”
  • “Thank you for going to the play with me last Saturday night.”
  • “I like how handsome you look in the blue sweater you’re wearing now.”

If you say, “you did a good job cleaning the kitchen counter,” you are making a “you” statement. You can sound like you are judging rather than complimenting in a heartfelt way. It’s better to begin with “I.”

Other ways to enhance your appreciative comments:

  • Use body language and a warm voice. Smile and make eye contact.
  • Compliment positive character traits: “I appreciated your kindness in visiting my sick aunt with me.”
  • Be specific: “I appreciate how lovely you looked in your new navy dress you wore to the party Saturday night.”

Take nothing for granted. Does he read a bedtime story to the children? Did you like her attentiveness at the party when she caught your eye from across the room and smiled? Did you value his thoughtfulness in phoning to say he’d be late?

When complimented, listen silently, then say “thank you” graciously. Denying a compliment (e.g., saying “I look fat in that dress”) is like refusing a gift. If you haven’t learned to accept a compliment, practice. It’s important!

Do not make disguised “you” statements. They sound critical and create emotional distance. Don’t say, “I appreciate that you finally remembered to take out the garbage.” Do say, “I appreciate you for remembering to take out the garbage last night.”
Give and accept appreciation cordially, with a warm voice and soft eye contact. You’ll keep your love growing and your marriage thriving.

Not everyone is comfortable receiving appreciation. Here are some reasons:

  • People who lack self-esteem may not trust that the compliments are true.
  • Some cultures view accepting a compliment as boasting.
  • People who were raised with too much criticism or where self-disclosure was risky tend to find it hard to make I-statements. I-statements require a willingness to be vulnerable.

These challenges can be overcome with self-awareness and practice.

Noticing fine traits and behaviors in your partner produces a ripple effect. You will start noticing more often what you like about your children, other family members, friends, and co-workers.

Expressing appreciation adds to your reservoir of optimism and good feelings. Life’s stresses and tensions can reduce the supply. You’ll keep the warm feelings flowing by noticing what’s going well and communicating appreciation daily.